Dave The Kayaker

Kayaking, musings, and my mid-life fitness journey. DaveTheKayaker

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A little leg work

Between paddling a 19.5 mile race last Saturday, 5 miles last evening to stay loose, and with an 8.5 mile race coming up this Saturday, I decided to work my lower body tonight and give my arms, chest and lats a little break.

See you Saturday at The Nelson Downriver Race.

*** UPDATE: This race has been postponed until May 20, 2017 due to high water ***



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The “Little D on the Monocacy” race


Yesterday I paddled in my season-opening race on the Monocacy River up in Frederick Maryland and was blown away by what I discovered.

Danny Sullivan, or “Little D,” was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystropy a few years ago.  It is a terminal disease that affects the growth and development of myelin, the fatty covering that acts as an insulator around nerve fibers throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems.    Symptoms include muscle wasting and weakness, muscle rigidity, developmental delays, progressive loss of vision leading to blindness, convulsions, impaired swallowing, and paralysis.

Friends and family of Little D organized this race a few years ago to raise money for the immediate family to allow them to do as much with Little D as they can while he is still with us.

The sense of community and purpose I discovered was inspiring.

I woke up at 5am, grabbed a shower quietly so as not to wake the family, got ready quickly, and then made the normally 3 hour drive up to Frederick and was pleasantly surprised when it only took 2-1/2 hours.

Traffic through Leesburg, VA is certainly much easier before most decent folk are awake and on the roads.

I had my boat (Cobra Viper kayak) and all my gear loaded in the truck the night before so I could get on the road as quickly as possible.

I had entered the 19.5 mile race this day but there was also a 6 mile version.  I opted for the longer race as a test of my physical conditioning so early in the season to use as a benchmark for my training for the rest of the season.

I arrived plenty early and had a chance to chat with Steve Corbett, event coordinator, and learn a little more about the event and river conditions. The participant turnout for the 19.5 mile race was a bit disappointing but Steve told me there were 30 or more paddlers gathered at the starting line for the 6 mile race.

Before the race even began I helped a local kayak fisherman finishing up for the morning load his kayak on his trailer and when he heard about the event he walked up to the registration table and made a donation on the spot.

We got on the water and I asked a fellow paddler to turn on my bow camera for me and he was happy to do so.

Turns out, he was Brian A. from Pennsylvania and as we chatted we learned that we had paddled together last year at the Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race, but didn’t know or recognize each other.

Brian is an outstanding paddler and he and his Epic Touring Endurance 18 fiberglass kayak would turn out to be more than I could handle on this day.  The Touring Endurance 18 was the predecessor to what is now known as the Epic 18X.

After a quick bit of research, I was able to find a photo of Brian and me at the Lehigh Classic last year.

It is a small world and an even smaller community of kayak racers.


Brian and me at the Lehigh Classic in 2016

The race began and I allowed the other racers to get off ahead of me so I could capture some video.

As luck would have it, Icarus Air was there with a video drone and they graciously volunteered their services and allowed me to use some of their video.

We started in overcast conditions at the 10am start but the sky cleared, the sun came out, and it was very hot by 11:45.  Normally kayakers hate a headwind, but the headwind during the end of the race was actually very welcomed as it helped us stay cool.

Two sets of canoers in racing canoes jumped out to an early lead at the start of the race and that just left Brian in plain sight of me for the entire race.  I burned more energy than I wanted to early in the race just to stay close to him thinking I’d wait for the latter parts of the race to try to make a move as he tired, but it turned out Brian kept as much gas in the tank as he needed and chose all the right lines on the river so that by mile 15 I realized I was unlikely to pass him.

This section of the Monocacy River is slow and winding so this was almost entirely a flat water race.  Had I known this, I would have chosen a faster, lighter boat.

So I settled into  healthy pace and enjoyed the remainder of the race by mile 16, with Brian still in sight, but with a wider gap than I had allowed previously.

At the end, I came across the finish line in second place for kayakers on the 19.5 mile race, 2-1/2 minutes behind Brian with an official time of 2:55:27. My GPS showed exactly 19.5 miles with a moving average speed of 6.6mph and a maximum speed of 9.3mph.

I’ve never been at a race where there were so many people cheering at the finish line.  The supporters and volunteers for this race are awesome!

There were tents with food and drinks at the finish line and an awards ceremony.

The idea behind this race is to help Little D’s family now and then serve as a living legacy to his memory.

I encourage all paddlers to participate in this race next year and every year after that.

I’ll be back.

Come paddle with me.

See you next Saturday at the Nelson Downriver Race.

See also:

Frederick New-Post Story

The Race page on Facebook

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First real test of the new year

I got called out of the country on business this week and only managed to get in one workout in the hotel fitness center.

So today was a test to see if I could snap back into the groove of training, especially since I am still a little jetlagged and am fighting the remains of a head/chest cold I had over the holidays.

I got in a very good lunchtime workout and snapped right back into the swing of things.  I managed to do a medium-difficult upper body workout and then later made dinner for the family which included grain-free, sugar free pizza and white turkey chilli.  A high protein, moderate fat, low-carb dinner that made everyone happy.

I’m feeling good and am ready to challenge my mid-section and lower body in the gym tomorrow morning.

This evening I also learned about the Chattajack 31 race in the American Canoe Association‘s Paddle News newsletter.  I’ll do a little more research into this race and then maybe add it to my racing schedule in 2017.

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Starting to review my year in paddling

The kayak races that immediately pop into my mind as the most memorable in 2016 were two completely new ones to me, and the James River Rundown 100-miler (I did the 40-mile version last year.)

I enjoyed and amazing year kayaking on some great waters and look forward to expanding my paddling horizons even more in 2017.

If you know of a kayak race or event on the East Coast you think I should hit, let me know.

  1. The James River Rundown 100-miler
  2. The Cumberland River Challenge
  3. The Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race


Cville to Bville: The Cumberland River Challenge 2016

Yesterday I made my way to Barbourville, KY for the 3rd annual Cumberland River Challenge.  It was my first time ever on the Cumberland River and I did not have much of a guess as to exactly what the river would be like or what the skill level of paddlers would be.

Prior to leaving home, it didn’t take me more than about 2 seconds worth of thought to decide which boat I would take, because it seemed obvious to me the Phoenix Match II ought to go back home to her Kentucky roots and race on her home river.

I arrived in the town of Barbourville a little after 8am which was about an hour before assembly time and nobody was at the registration spot so I quickly walked down the boat ramp at the finish line to see what the river was like, saw that it was very low, and then wandered back into town and grabbed a cup of coffee at the only cafe I could find open, The Oven Mitt.  I walked in and immediately was met by a horse saddle as part of the decor along with a table lamp affixed to the ceiling by its base.  CMT videos were  playing on the screen behind the breakfast counter.

My kind of place.

I slurped down a cup of coffee and then set out to explore the town a bit.

Barbourville is a quaint, small town with a true town square with the county courthouse right in the center of the square.

As I snapped a few pictures while the morning fog was clearing, I couldn’t help but wonder if the Duke boys were about to come buzzing into town and zip around the town square while being chased by Sheriff Roscoe.  (Note: Barbourville, please don’t yell at me.  Yes, I know you are not Hazard.)

Alas, the morning was to remain silent for a while and the only racing around town that day was to be on the river.

Knox County Courthouse, town square, Barbourville, KY

As 9am neared, I made my way back to the assembly area and to my surprise, quite a few people were there by then.  I checked in, unloaded my boat, and began chatting with some of my fellow racers, asking them about the river, obstacles, etc.

I prepared my gear and had both my Fenn 1 and Fenn 3 wing paddles in my car and decided to use my Fenn 1 simply because it is more beat-up.  I did not wish to bang up my newer, better Fenn 3 flat water paddle.

The Fenn 3 would have been my preference because of its smaller blade surface area, but in the interest of preserving my gear, my arms and shoulders would have to pay the price for paddling larger blades for 15 miles.  I knew that was a lot of miles to be scooping water using the larger blades.

Paddlers were given a safety briefing and then all the boats were loaded onto boat trailers (one of which was actually a cattle trailer) and then all paddlers loaded into a few shuttle vans that were waiting for us and we all caravanned up to the starting line outside town in a small community named Four Mile.

Just the fact that paddlers could all leave their vehicles at the finish line and be shuttled to the starting line with their boats and gear was a huge positive and already made this event one of the better organized and managed races I’ve experienced.

We put in the water for a shotgun start at ~11am, the race official gave us warnings at 5 minutes, 3 minutes and then 1 minute to go, gave us a countdown from 10 seconds, and then we were off.

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I started several boats back at the start and had to deal with quite a few waves from other paddlers. If you recall, this sent me across a river sideways once in this boat at the start of a race, a fact that I was well aware of, so I was determined not to let that happen again.

I kept control of the boat and kept it pointed downriver to soon realize there were three or four paddlers who jumped out to a strong start and had a bit of a lead on everyone else.

It took me a little while to catch up to them.  As I caught up, I commented how I thought they got off to a very fast start for a 15 mile race.  Andy, the son of one of them and a strong paddler in his own right (paddling a Pyranha Speeder) shot back, “they do that every year.”  I was able to eventually pass the leaders and I think it took about 4 or 5 miles before I was able to put some distance on the #2 paddler.  He was a strong paddler so I tried to keep tabs on him over my shoulder.

The water was very low and the day grew very hot.

My GPS did not get good signal during parts of the race, but on the plus side that meant there was a fair amount of shade for the first half of the race, being so deep in a hollow.

I tried to paddle my best wing paddle stroke during the deep, flat water portions but those were few and far between which meant the flat water was mostly shallow so I had to take shallow strokes with a low angle using only 1/2 – 3/4 of my paddle blades, defeating the purpose of a wing paddle.  But in retrospect, that helped me reduce some strain on my shoulders from using the larger blades, which I was a little worried about.

Paddling can be funny.

No matter how much planning you do and despite making the best pre-race decisions you think you can, the river always throws something unexpected at you and you have to adjust.  Sometimes it works in your favor and sometimes it doesn’t.

Several times when I did try to really dig in at a high angle, my paddle blade struck rocks or logs or tires that were shallowly submerged in the muddy water and once or twice that alone almost capsized me.

It was a very low water day on a mostly flat water course.  There were, however, several sections of small rapids and small ledges for which there was no clear line anywhere.  I bumped and scraped on many of them and a few times had to use my hands to push myself along off the rocks.

This section of the Cumberland reminded me a great deal of my home river, the Rivanna, with one major difference.

Discarded auto tires.

I have never seen so many tires in and near a river than I did on the Cumberland yesterday.  Apart from that, the scenery was beautiful.

I managed to maintain my lead across the finish line and was informed my time was 2 hours and 30 minutes for the 15-mile race, good enough for an overall win and a new race record.

The top three: Brady Taylor, me, and Kris Davis.  2, 1,3

There was a refreshment tent with great BBQ and side dishes at the finish line, a portable sink with soap to wash hands, iced beverages and great fellowship with race organizers and fellow paddlers.  In fact, these were some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met and if I make it back to the race, it will be largely because of them.  They were extremely friendly and welcoming and they run a very well organized event with excellent volunteers.

dscf2233A few of the top paddlers who I feel are new friends.  The younger gentleman, Andy, in the photo could be a world class paddler one day if he puts his mind to it.

dscf2227Several of the top boats after the race

After the picnic and obligatory exchange of race stories, there was a small awards ceremony in which I got to shake hands with David Thompson, the mayor of Barbourville, twice, as I received not only one but two awards, which was nice and unexpected.

With mayor David Thompson

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The awards with other swag courtesy of Barbourville Tourism

I loaded my gear and began my long drive home, and was treated to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country in Southeastern Kentucky and  Northeastern Tennessee.

I had a great time but learned a few things.

1) 15 miles is at the upper limit of comfort tolerance in the Match II.  My legs, lower back, and butt are feeling it today.
2) Great paddlers can be found just about anywhere, not just near big water.  I enjoyed meeting some new ones and exchanging tips, strategies, and ideas.
3) Don’t make a long drive with wet, muddy water shoes in the car on a hot day.

In only its third year, the Cumberland River Challenge is very well organized for its age.  I encourage you to make the effort to get there next year.

It is a little-known gem.

Water levels at race time: 1.72 ft, 150cfs @ Barbourville

Race start video with a slideshow of my still pictures

My entire, long, boring race video

Some local news coverage from The Mountain Advocate.


Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race 2016


I left Charlottesville, VA and started driving at 4am on Saturday, Aug. 27 to head to White Haven, PA for the 5th annual Lehigh Classic Whitewater Race.

A couple weeks back when I realized Saturday was free of any of our kids’ activities (a rarity,) and due to the fact that the Wye Island Regatta has become unfriendly toward kayakers in recent years in terms of entry fees, I went looking for a kayak race somewhere that I could do on Saturday instead of the Wye Island Regatta on Sept. 10–a race that I’ve done already  multiple times with the boats I own so I have nothing new to offer or bring to the game.

I found the Lehigh Classic online (through the U.S. Canoe & Kayak Races page on Facebook. Disclaimer–I created that group) and decided to sign up and try some paddling that would be unlike any I’ve done before.

The Lehigh Classic is held on the Lehigh River, through Lehigh Gorge State Park, when the local dam releases water which creates Class III river conditions.  I researched this section of water online and when the water is low it appears to be mostly technical Class II rapids and when the water is released it has some Class III features, but nobody knows exactly what the water release will be in advance.  I’ve never tried Class III rapids in my very tippy Cobra Viper kayak so I decided to enter the race and paddle that boat.

I wanted to try something new and push my limits and I definitely paddled at the limit of–or just above–my skill level in the Viper.

When I got to the race to register and shuttle, I asked everyone I could what to expect from the water that day.  They informed me that the dam release was around 1700 cfs so there would be Class II and “easy” Class III rapids with a few sections of flat water.  Everyone kept telling me it was easy Class III’s and there was nothing to worry about, but they didn’t realize I was paddling a 17′ long, very tippy kayak, so I was worried.

In retrospect, it would have been an easy, fun day in my whitewater boat so everyone was right.  They just didn’t realize what a challenge I had in front of me with my particular boat.

The first bit of bad luck occurred when I caught a shuttle to the starting line.  When I got there I quickly realized I forgot my helmet cam in my takeout vehicle at the finish line, so there is no actual race video.

The second bit of bad luck happened shortly after I put in the water and was paddling to the starting line for the race which was approximately 1 mile downriver from the put-in.

I was paddling through a set of continuous Class II rapids when I notice a chute, river-right, between two rocks that was the slot to hit.

As I neared the chute, a kayaker in a whitewater boat approached the chute from the center of the river right in front of me.  I’m sure he didn’t know I was there, but I knew I was about to hit him.  People in smaller whitewater boats just don’t realize that a 17′ plastic boat with no rocker is not easy to turn and once fast-flowing water has grabbed it, it is very hard to slow it down.

I tried to hit the brakes but I was going much faster than the whitewater boat so I did everything I could to turn to the right to avoid smacking right into the rear of the kayaker in front of me which would have made a mess.

It turned out my evasive maneuver made a mess that was special just for me.

Some pushy water grabbed me and slammed me head-on into a rock, river-right.  A Piton to end all Pitons.

The force of the impact was so great that it overturned me, bent the bow of my kayak, and caused my right foot brace to slip out of its slot and shoot all the way forward on the rail such that my foot could no longer touch it.  For a split second I thought, no problem, just roll, but at that very same split second my head collided with a rock underwater and I realized I had to wet exit.

DSCF1126The dent/bend in the bow of my kayak from hitting a rock before the race began

My neck is still sore from this incident 24 hours later and the scratches in my helmet tell the tale.

The impact probably would have knocked loose my helmet camera so forgetting it was probably a blessing in disguise.  That impact with the rock probably would have sent my helmet camera to live with the fish forever.

I got to the side of the river and pumped out all the water as best I could and tried and tried to reach in and fix the foot peg but I just couldn’t reach it. I knew race time was approaching to I decided to jump back into the boat, get the the starting and then pull the boat out onto dry land and crawl up into the boat if I needed to or otherwise do whatever had to be done with the foot peg to fix it.

As luck would have it, I encountered another wave train of Class III’s that gently rolled me to the right.  Normally not a problem, but at this moment it was a very big problem.  I couldn’t brace with my right foot and tried to throw down a bracing stroke but it was too late.  Bloop!  Over again.  The river was shallow at that point and I had no chance for a roll so I just grabbed onto the boat and swam the rapids.  These were the rapids that led to the starting line so I’m sure I made a great impression getting to the starting line in full swim mode.

Good thing no cameras were around.

Doh! Can’t get away with anything these days.

Getting to the starting line in style

I was told there were still 20 minutes until the start of the race so I relaxed a bit, pumped out my boat again, and had time to fiddle with the foot peg.  I was finally able to reach it and much to my surprise, it was not broken so I was able to simply slide it back up the rail and click it back to its position.

I was already tired, embarrassed, and worried about what the rest of the river had in store for me that day.

I went into survival mode and just wanted to make it down the remainder of the river section with as little drama as possible.

As we lined up in the eddy for the start of the race I found myself next to a gentleman paddling a Pyranha Speeder that he had borrowed and only paddled three times.  He told me he was uncomfortable with the tippyness of his craft and said when the race started he intended to stay back and let everyone get a solid start and that he did not want to interfere with me.  I quickly confirmed that I, too, was in survival mode at this point and his plan sounded solid to me and I would hang back with him.

The race began and the two of us let all the wildwater and long boats get off to a good start before we even paddled away from the shoreline.

Wildwater boats lining up for the start of the race

I made it through the first few sets of rapids without a problem so I started thinking about race mode again.

When I got to the first flat water section I started throwing down the best flat water wing paddle sprint strokes I had to try to click back into race mode.

I rather quickly started passing the plastic long boats and paddled for quite a while behind a guy in a red LiquidLogic Stinger.  I was finally able to pass him but was aware that he was not too far behind.  I then saw the last of 4 carbon/Kevlar wildwater boats that were in the race ahead of me and came to the full realization that the leaders were at least still in sight.  I still had a chance to get back in the race.

Soon I approached a standing wave in the center or the river and at this point I had learned it was better for me to take the wave trains head-on rather than skirt them because skirting them caused more of a rolling action, which was not desirable with such a tippy craft.

As I neared the large wave, I saw the tip of a large rock in the center of it so I quickly tried to adjust to just skim the right side of the wave.

Too late.

The bow of my boat had already hit the rock and my boat was being pushed up the rock.  By the time I got to the top of the rock I felt like I was at the top of the world looking down but quickly feared that I was now stuck on the top of a rock in the middle of the river.

The river had a different idea.

Water pushed on my stern until I was at the 9-o’clock position and then d-o-w-n I went over the top of the rock.  I’m sure it was the ugliest sideways boof ever and I plunged for what seemed like an eternity down the 5 or 6 feet into the hole below the rock.

I don’t entirely remember the exact words that came out of my mouth during that incident, but I’m quite sure my mother would not have been proud of me in that moment.

Still rocked by what had just happened, I somehow managed to bob up and get out of the hole with relative ease and keep paddling.

I have no idea how I managed to save that one.

The race continued and I did my best to avoid the many rafts on the river that day while throwing down massive bracing strokes when needed to stay upright.  I continued to close the gap on the wildwater boat I could see but alas, I finally ran out of river.

wildwaterOh, how I envy the large wings on those wildwater boats

I crossed the finish line in 4th place amongst the men, 5th place overall.  I was 2 minutes and 34 seconds behind the overall winner.  I was also the first plastic boat across the finish line and the only boats ahead of me were the four carbon/Kevlar wildwater boats, so I felt very good about what I actually accomplished once the race began.

My accomplishments were rewarded at the awards ceremony with “The Carnage Award,” given annually to the paddler who encountered the most trouble during the event.  I will cherish this round little slice or wooden goodness for the rest of my life because my shins paid the price for it.

I’m not sure if I paddled way above my skill level in that boat or whether I evolved as a paddler and raised the bar on my skill level, but after I drove the 5-1/2 hours home I couldn’t wait to jump in the shower and wash the fear and sweat off my body.

It was a long day.

I took a long nap this afternoon after attending church (I gave thanks for still being alive.)

After working on the boat with a heat gun today the boat is almost back to normal and I placed my “Carnage Award” in a position of prominence on my awards rack.

The people who participated in and organized this race were all so wonderful and nice to me.  I can’t thank them enough, especially Brian A. who stayed with me up to the starting line to make sure I didn’t kill myself before the race began.

Turns out, he pulled the toughest assignment of the day.

Anyone who can get to this race in future years needs to do so.  It runs through absolutely beautiful scenery in the gorge and the water during the dam release on race day makes this mostly a continuous Class III race with separating sections of Class II and one or two flat water sections.

I’ll be back next year in a more sensible boat.

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Some video from Eric Jones…